It wasn’t the weirdest thing anyone has ever observed on the Las Vegas strip, but seeing local Connie Aronson and friends tromping along the sidewalks of Sin City wielding Nordic ski poles at 7 a.m. on a day last spring turned a few heads.
“There were a lot of people walking around with drinks in their hands looking at us like, ‘what are you doing?’” says Aronson.
The group was Nordic Walking, something Aronson has been enthusiastically practicing and promoting since surgery forced her to swap running for another form of physical exercise.
“Nordic Walking is a fantastic way to burn more calories—up to 40 percent more than regular walking,” says Aronson, an American College of Sports Medicine certified fitness trainer. “By using the poles, you are working your arms and your shoulders, your upper chest and back. It is very easy to learn and is a great way to improve your overall fitness.”
The sport originated in Finland, and to date, about half a million people in Europe have taken it up.
The attractions are many. In addition to overall weight loss benefits, use of the poles helps reduce stress on the hips, knees, and lower body. The poles also provide increased lateral stability, and can counter-balance an injury.
“Your calorie and oxygen consumption increase by 20 to 46 percent because you are breathing harder and engaging more muscles,” Aronson adds. “What’s interesting is that even though your body is working harder using the poles, the perceived exertion is the same as regular walking.”
Simply walking, you may find it difficult to maintain a fast, calorie-burning pace. With Nordic Walking, you can’t help but sweat more, she says.
“It’s easy to daydream when you are walking, but pushing with the poles requires you to stay engaged in what you are doing.”
Poles, rather than, say, a nice walking stick you choose from a forest, are important because they can be adjusted to your height to provide your arms with a natural gait. The technique is a natural progression of the mechanics of walking, resulting in a rhythmic stride from left foot to right pole plant and vice versa. People generally master the technique within an hour.
You can use your winter ski poles, but Nordic poles have two features: the hand grip, for pushing the pole as far back as possible, and the optional rubber ends, to accommodate trails, grass, and sidewalks. Poles run anywhere from $99 to about $150 a pair.
Aronson offers walking clinics “Chicks with Sticks,” in conjunction with Ketchum’s Elephant’s Perch. All ages and skill sets are encouraged to take the hour-long jaunt to see if the sport is for them.
“The last clinic we had included people who were recovering from heart surgery, 30-year-olds looking for new forms of exercise, and 80-year-olds,” Aronson says. “It’s really suitable for anyone willing to give it a try.”
Aronson can be found at Koth Sports Physical Therapy in Ketchum, 208.725.0627.
Jennifer Liebrum, who previously took ski poles walking in case of snakes, now uses them for fitness, as a result of interviewing Aronson.